Instantly Forgettable – The Death of the Snowboarder Know-It-All?

What will survive in the constant creative barrage of the web generation?

Spend enough time among snowboarders and you’ll come across at least one. The shredipedia, the walking fountain of knowledge, the fella who hears a track on the radio and chirps up with ‘name the video part!’ – of course they already know the answer, but do you?

You’ll find this kind of fan in many sports. I once met someone who could name you the starting line up for any given English football team, at least as far back as 1995. A handy skill in many situations, no doubt…

But in snowboarding, skateboarding and surfing the phenomenon is all too familiar, and it counts for more than just conversation filler. We often amount in-depth knowledge with a certain type of kudos – it sorts the wheat from the chaff, the ‘locals’ from the ‘kooks’, as well as joining together an international niche(ish) community through their shared cultural history (i.e. it gives us something to chat about). But the real enthusiasm for this fact banking seems to come from the generation of snowboarders for whom it was actually possible to list all the movie releases from one year on a single page. I hesitate to generalise, but I’d imagine that such comprehensive recollection of the snowboarding archives is a bit of a lost art amongst many millennials?

“We’ve grown up with information overload. Videos that rack up endlessly. Instant emotional reactions quickly replaced by the next big thing.”

We’ve grown up with information overload. Videos that rack up endlessly. Instant emotional reactions quickly replaced by the next big thing, compounding all too often into an overall feeling of indifference. How many instances can you think of where you were super-hyped about the latest video-part-hammer-fest on Wednesday, only to have completely forgotten about it by the weekend?

The pre-session VHS that’s been lovingly re-played ’till it’s worn out is a familiar story told by those who lived through snowboarding’s formative years, but attention spans in the digital age rarely have the same thirst for repetition (GIFs and viral ‘lol’ vids notwithstanding).

So are standards dropping? Is snowboarding ‘dead’? Is nobody doing anything worth mentioning anymore? Far from it. The web’s just so bubbling with life that for a clip to earn its place amongst a wider snowboarding history, it has to be more than that kid who did every 270-on rail combo in the book. To avoid becoming part of the quickly forgotten background noise, there surely has to be a little bit more brought to the table? Even the old-schoolers’ encyclopedic knowledge tends to fade out as you start to talk about the late noughties – it’s just becoming harder and harder to keep track of what’s gone down.

Artist's impression of current ratio of cameras to snowboarders on a bluebird day...

So it’s not just about millennials, it’s about this era of snowboarding. What will we all remember going forward through snowboarding’s current phase?

Well understandably (and perhaps foreshadowed by the Faction divide in skating), it’s going to be different for everyone. Yes, it would appear that we too are destined for some kind of division of labour. If we can no longer remember every halfpipe comp, freeride legend, and jib kid under the sun, it makes sense to be a bit more of a specialist.

A few snowboarding archetypes. Illustration: Kieron Black

No doubt you’ve realised this already. Depending on your geography, favoured brands, or preferred snowboarding style, you may well know about a different subsector of snowboarding to Johnny-two-fags sitting next to you on the chair lift. After all how many of us have got the time to fully commit to knowing absolutely all areas of the snowboarding spectrum? There’s just no need – unless, that is, you find yourself talking about snowboarding for a living, or your sole drive in life is the relentless urge to comment on every video you see…

“Some events must still transcend the divide. Art of Flight like singularities that are just so friggin’ big that if you’ve ever even caught a whif of a snowboard, they’ve embedded themselves in your conscious.”

So we end up with a globe of specialists? Well maybe, but presumably some events must still transcend the divide. Art of Flight like singularities that are just so friggin’ big that if you’ve ever even caught a whif of a snowboard, they’ve embedded themselves in your conscious. True, the goliath-like reverence for movies seems to be less of a factor these days, but undoubtedly there are still moments that stick with us in the same way. And arguably the deciding factor can be summed up with a bit of a change of thought:

It’s not the rider with the biggest trick book that counts, or the project with the biggest budget. It’s the one that is the most memorable.

That’s it.

And if someone’s really worth watching in this day and age, it’s because they’re a repeat offender at doing shit that people remember. And if they’re actually turning heads in competitions, it’s because they’re not doing what everyone else does, because that might top podiums, but a lot of those results probably won’t really be remembered either… And if they want to make a rad video that stands out from the crowd, it has to have more than just back-to-back hammers, because that ‘too cool for personality’ stuff might get props from local kids, but it’ll only really kick off if the hammers are charged full of style or at the forefront of progression, and even then they have to be really bluddy good; (not that they’re personality free, but you could easily watch Yawgoons, Scott Stevens, Marcus Kleveland etc., hammers only, no sound, and still be thoroughly entertained).

Thankfully, in amongst the burgeoning crowds of snowboarding talent, there are those who seem to have a sub-conscious awareness of the current state of affairs: the harsh truth that ‘Amazing Snowboarder – Can Do Every Stock Trick’ is unfortunately not quite enough to earn international acclaim, and so we see genuine moments of creative inspiration rising above the crowds. Think of the crews who actually manage the deadly combo of getting a laugh out of you, while stoking you out to go ride. Rusty Toothbrush antics, Ice Coast Kills Shit, both are a prime demonstration of the former and the latter.

Photo: Mike Basich (obviously!)

Of course, personality and creativity can come hand-in-hand with getting shut down by internet folks who sit behind a veil of anonymity, and it seems like we’re only just starting to emerge from the hater-fearing dark ages; but if you hark back to most of those films that the silverbacks cling onto so dearly, you’ll notice that they too were elevated beyond ‘just snowboarding’ by something else.

Ingemar’s backside air was massive, but also raw and loaded with reckless abandon, Mike Basich’s selfie skills were so prolific that they’re still yet to be beaten (even with millions now being taken every day), Johan O’s TB5 part annihilated all expectations of what a freestyle kid could do in the backcountry, Romain de Marchi’s Vivid Part appears to peer into the soul of the man; and JP Walker helped inspire countless questionable corn-row haircuts as well as pushing snowboarding into double corkage…

I guess what it comes down to is the age-old acknowledgement that snowboarding is a human story as much as a sporting one. What we remember, and will continue to remember, crosses the divide between the two somehow and latches on to the conscience, refusing to let go. The key ingredient can be subtle, or smacking you in the face, it matters not, but find it, and glory is yours – at least until the next new best thing comes along.

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